Tuesday, May 27, 2008

June 2, 2008


In a nutshell, the concept of "stepwise refinement" is to take an object and move it from a general perspective to a precise level of detail. Architects have used such an approach for years, as have engineers building products. But to do so, they realized they cannot simply go from the general to the specific in one felled swoop, but instead, in increments (steps). The number of steps needed to decompose an object into sufficient detail is ultimately based on the inherent nature of the object. To illustrate, for architects designing a building, the typical steps include:

  1. Develop artist rendering (to consider viability).
  2. Design foundation and superstructure.
  3. Design Floor plans.
  4. Design electrical and plumbing diagrams.

In other words, before the first shovel of dirt is dug on the project, the architect knows precisely what the building will look like and how it will work. All of the guess work has been eliminated.

Engineers building products such as automobiles follow similar yet different steps:

  1. Develop artist rendering (to consider viability).
  2. Design major assemblies (e.g., chassis, body, etc.)
  3. Design subassemblies (e.g., engine, transmission, electrical, etc.)
  4. Design operations (e.g., the various components of the engine).

Like the architects, the engineers know precisely how the automobile will look, the parts needed to produce it, and the sequencing of assembly. All of the guess work has been eliminated.

"Stepwise refinement" ultimately represents a "divide and conquer" approach to design. In other words, break a complex object into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be reviewed and inspected before moving to the next level of detail.

There are those in the I.T. field that feel such an approach is impractical to implement, and instead of engineering your way to success, you should take an initial stab at developing a program, then continue to modify it until you have developed something to pacify the user's needs. This of course is a hacker's approach to development and may be fine for developing an innocuous little program but definitely not suitable for developing anything of substance.

Can the concept of "stepwise refinement" be applied to a single program? Absolutely. As a matter of fact, it lies at the core of the structured programming movement of the 1970's-80's. But can it be applied on a grander scale, such as an enterprise-wide Information System. Again, the answer is Yes. In fact, it is the logical way of attacking such a major endeavor.

Before we can tackle an information system, it would make sense that we first understood the inherent properties or structure of the object of our attention. It has always been our contention that an Information System is a product that can be engineered and manufactured like any other product. To this end, we see an Information System as a four level hierarchical structure consisting of the following components:

LEVEL 1 - SYSTEM - representing the overall product to be built.

LEVEL 2 - SUB-SYSTEMS - representing the business processes associated with the system (one or more).

LEVEL 3 - PROCEDURES - representing the work flow of each sub-system. There are essential two types of procedures; Administrative - representing procedures executed by humans; and Computer.

LEVEL 4 - PROGRAMS - representing the programs needed to execute each computer procedure.

As an aside, there is also a Level 4 for Administrative Procedures (to write the instructions/steps pertaining to the procedure), but for the purposes of this paper, let's put this aside for the moment.

Under "stepwise refinement" the levels are decomposed top-down during the design process, and implemented bottom-up; a common engineering/manufacturing technique.

To implement this approach, a "blueprinting" technique is used which is actually not too dissimilar with that used by architects and engineers in other fields. Here, the blueprints are used to express the succeeding levels in the system hierarchy. To illustrate, consider the following diagram, where the work from the preceding phase feeds the next level in the system hierarchy:

What this means is that all of the guess work has been eliminated. So much so, that the creation of executable programs should be a relatively simple task. Again, the specifications for the programs were developed naturally in smaller and more manageable increments, not all in once.


The concept of "stepwise refinement" is not exactly new and has been used successfully in the engineering/manufacturing of products for many years as a means to manage complexity. It has only been in the last thirty years that people have been trying to implement the technique in the development of systems and software.

In the absence of "stepwise refinement" on a complex system, the "brute force" approach is typically used, whereby superficial work is done in the earlier phases and substantially more time is spent in programming second-guessing what is to be developed. This is one reason why companies today rarely tackle major systems development assignments, and are content with attacking it in piecemeal.

But if you can assimilate a system as a product, and believe it can be engineered and manufactured like any other product, than "stepwise refinement" is a pragmatic solution you can definitely use.

If you would like to discuss this with me in more depth, please do not hesitate to send me an e-mail.

Keep the faith!

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...

"You eat elephants one spoonful at a time."


Friends, we have just published a new book entitled, "MORPHING INTO THE REAL WORLD - A Handbook for Entering the Work Force" which is a survival guide for young people as they transition into adult life.

Bonnie Wooding, the President of the Toronto Chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) said, "Many of our members are just starting their careers and I will be recommending that they read this book, especially Chapter 3, Professional Development - a primer for business skills and filled with basic common sense advice that is simple, easy to follow and extraordinarily practical; and Chapter 5, Do’s and Don’ts of the Workplace, an excellent resource for those questions you are too embarrassed to ask for fear of looking foolish."

The Miami Hurricane recently reviewed it (10/22/2007) and said,

"the abundance of information the book provides is a good start for anyone about to take the first step into the real world. Though the concept of adulthood may seem intimidating, it's comforting to know that someone has at least written a guidebook for it."

Reviewer Bill Petrey praised it by saying, "Every young person entering the workplace for the first time should be given a copy of this book."

The book includes chapters to describe how a young person should organize themselves, how to adapt to the corporate culture, develop their career, and improve themselves professionally and socially. Basically, its 208 pages of good sound advice to jump start the young person into the work force. Corporate Human Resource departments will also find this book useful for setting new hires on the right track in their career. It not only reinforces the many formal rules as contained in corporate policy manuals, but also includes the subtle unwritten rules we must all observe while working with others. The book lists for $25 and can be ordered online through MBA or your local book store. Complementing the book is a one day seminar of the same name which can be purchased separately for $4,000.00 (U.S.) plus instructor travel expenses. For more information on both the book and the seminar, visit our corporate web site at:
ISBN: 978-0-9786182-5-4


Just recently I suffered from a two week bout of some crud which neither my Doctor or myself could figure out. I experienced night sweats, cold flashes, lack of sleep, and had no appetite. The doctor ran blood tests and a urinalysis on me and everything came out clean. I don't know what bug this was, but it sure drove me crazy. Some suggested I was experiencing Male Menopause.

As adults, we really don't like being sick, particularly to some unknown virus like what hit me. It drags us down, and doesn't allow us to be on top of our game. As kids, if we got sick, we all relished a day off from school and having mom pamper us a bit. But as adults, we really don't like being slowed down, and it grates on our nerves.

I really don't think I'm a bad patient when I get sick, I just basically want to be left alone so I can recover. I'm sure my wife sees me as being a bit grouchy and uncooperative, but I generally allow "Dr. Mom" to have her way with me. I'm not one who generally takes a lot of pills, rarely do I take any, but my wife knows what I should be taking and keeps me on schedule. Since I was having trouble sleeping, I decided to try one of those "PM" drugs at about 2:00am. I slipped back into bed, closed my eyes and waited for the drug to take effect. I looked up and it was now 3:00am, then 4:00am, etc. Maybe I wasn't using the drug properly; maybe it's intended to keep you awake.

It's hard to have a good demeanor when you are not feeling well, which is why I try to watch comedies on television when I'm sick. I tend to believe humor puts you in the proper frame of mind for getting better.

I will generally do what I'm told when I'm sick, at least for awhile, but if the virus goes on too long with me, I have to take matters into my own hands and decide to fight the bug down and dirty. This means I try to "smoke it out" with my cigars and "drown it out" with some good scotch whiskey. I figure since the bug had made my life miserable, it was time for me to return the favor.

I never understood why some employees tend to take more sick days than others. I guess they really don't like their jobs and are actually looking for work elsewhere. But employees need to be reminded that sick days do not represent a free pass to goof-off. Even in a small company like ours, this started to become a big problem; so much so, that we told employees to get notes from their doctor. This seemed to kill the problem.

Let me close with an old joke about diagnosing an ailment. A man goes to see his doctor complaining of "ringing in the ears, spots before his eyes, and shortness of breath." The doctor was at a loss as to the cause of the problem except that he thought if he removed one of the patient's testicles, that would eliminate the problem. The man thought this was rather an extreme remedy but after thinking it through he allowed the doctor to proceed with the operation.

Shortly after being released from the hospital, the man started to again experience the same symptoms. Upon revisiting his doctor again, the physician could only suggest removing the remaining testicle. The operation went off smoothly, but unfortunately the man again began to experience "ringing in the ears, spots before his eyes, and shortness of breath."

Between the loss of his manhood and his condition, the man became depressed and decided to end his life. But before doing so, he thought he would like to be buried in a new suit of clothes. This caused him to visit the local tailor who helped the man pick out an excellent suit. The clerk asked the man if he needed new belt, tie, and socks, which the man agreed to. The clerk went on to ask if he needed a new shirt, and the man also agreed to it. The clerk found a shirt that matched the suit nicely.

"What size shirt do you wear?" the clerk asked.

"Size 15" the man said.

"That doesn't sound right," the clerk said, and he measured the man. "You should be wearing a size 18."

"Nonsense, I've always worn a size 15," the man fired back.

"Sir, I'm sorry, but if you're wearing a size 15, you're probably experiencing ringing in the ears, spots before your eyes, and shortness of breath."

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.


Folks, a couple of years ago I started to include my "Pet Peeve of the Week" in these "Management Visions" podcasts. They have become so popular that I now syndicate them through the Internet and they are available for republication in other media. To this end, I have created a separate web page for my writings which you can find at Look for the section, "The Bryce is Right!" Hope you enjoy them.

Also, if you happen to be in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, be sure to stop by and check out our new Palm Harbor Business OASIS, a new business venue offering local business people a place to meet, work, network, and relax. Why pay a lot for leasing office space when you can become a member of the OASIS for as little as $100/month? For more information, visit our web site at:


I received the following e-mails from my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "Crowds":

An I.L. in Kansas City, Missouri wrote...

"This, my friend, is why I and my friends are mostly hermits now. The problem with humans is that there are too many of them."

An E.V. of Romeo, Michigan wrote...

"I used to enjoy crowds when I was a teenager. I loved Christmas shopping at the mall back then. Now I hate and avoid them. If I go to a mall, I park near the ONE department store I plan to go to, then I leave."

I received the following e-mails from my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "Finding Jesus":

A T.K. in Tennessee wrote...

"They're probably mostly just joyful about their new-found faith, I guess. I might get kind of annoyed too, though, I suppose."

An M.B. in Clearwater, Florida wrote...

"Former Psychiatric Social Worker here. People who have very little internal focus or self-control will need strict rules to keep them off the rails. Thus, they are attracted to fundamentalism and zealotry of all types. They fail to see that some of us do not need a rigid set of rules imposed from the outside in order to behave in a civilized manner, and make the assumption that we need what they need to live by God's word. I think their post-finding Jesus behavior is much to be preferred to their pre-finding Jesus behavior, despite the fact that they can be irritating beyond belief. There are a LOT more of them out there. I am guessing it is because fundamentalist dogmas have a much bigger foothold in the south and are considered acceptable."

Again, thanks for your comments. For these and other comments, please visit my "Bryce is Right!" web site.

Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

Our corporate web page is at:

Management Visions is a presentation of M. Bryce & Associates, a division of M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. The program is produced on a weekly basis and updated on Sundays. It is available in versions for RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player, and MP3 suitable for Podcasting. See our web site for details. You'll find our broadcast listed in several Podcast and Internet Search engines, as well as Apples' iTunes.

If you have any questions or would like to be placed on our e-mailing list to receive notification of future broadcasts, please e-mail it to

For a copy of past broadcasts, please contact me directly.

We accept MP3 files with your voice for possible inclusion in the broadcast.

There is no charge for adding a link to "Management Visions" on your web page, for details and HTML code, see the "Management Visions" web site.

Management Visions accepts advertising. For rates, please contact yours truly directly.

Copyright © 2008 by M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. All rights reserved. "PRIDE" is the registered trademark of M&JB Investment Company.

This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."




Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home